Solo Summit of El Misti Volcano near Arequipa, Peru

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El Misti is a prominent volcano about 45 minutes from the large city of Arequipa in South Western Peru. I decided to climb it when I was planning my month long trip in South America. I was unaware of how difficult the altitude would be and I was really excited to test myself on this climb.

The altitude was on my mind, and the temperature was not. Looking back, I should have taken both into consideration. I started the hike after a 45 minute bus ride from my hostel in Arequipa.

The trail was a bit undetermined and because my Spanish isn’t very great, I basically decided to just start hiking when asking several natives resulted in absolutely no help.

I left the plaza of the small town and began stumbling through farms and along small dirt roads looking for a route up. Eventually, I left left the random patches of huts and farms behind and found footprints in the dark, moon-like sand.

I followed these footprints for a few hours. The route description told me to keep heading the direction that the footprints were going in. Finally, the peak was beginning to fall behind me, so I turned up and started up the side of the mountain.

My goal was to follow a series of ridges up the face and eventually make my way to a saddle at the top. I started working my way up the side of the mountain.

After not much longer, the sun was getting low and I figured it would be a good time to settle down for the evening. I was a bit discouraged about the slow progress I had made, but I was there so I took what I was given. After a terrible meal, I passed out.

I woke well before the sun rose; about 4:00am. I ate food in the cold. I started up. It was freezing, but I kept hiking. After a few hours the sun began to rise and I could look back and see how far I’d come… It didn’t look like much.

Up and up. Hiking up in black sand feels like a waste of energy. By about mid day I felt like I was dying of heat. I stripped off a bunch of the layers I had packed on and stuffed it into my bag. I brought a fairly empty pack and left my tent set up behind for night 2.

My water was running disturbingly low and I began to feel like I wouldn’t have enough water to make it to the top and back… I was starting to stress really badly because I wanted this mountain.

el misti near arequipa peruUp the peak I could see patches of snow. It was my lifeline. I had to make it there and get water or else I wasn’t going to make it to the top and come back alive.

After what felt like a day, but was probably more like 2 hours I reach a shady area with a small chunk of snow. I busted out my stove and began melting. I didn’t want to waste my fuel on my stove, so I melted the snow enough to filter it with my water purifier.

I filled one of my two empty 3liter bottles and enjoy the shade out of the intense sun.

I called it good with one bottle since I was about 3/4 of the way up at this point. So I continued on the treacherous slope. About 11 0r 12 hours into the summit day I was losing motivation. At 17000ft you can’t breath. 4 steps uphill in the sand felt like running a mile.

I was nearly on the verge of collapsing when I looked across the 45degree horizon that I had become so familiar with and saw a human figure silhouetted against the sun.

The TRAIL!!! I was an hour and a half from the top and I found the trail. I traversed toward the other hikers; a group of 3 Canadians. I was a bit higher on the mountain than they were, so I took the opportunity to rest and wait for companions to finish the hike with.

They looked about as haggard as I felt. We continued up for about 45 minutes and finally reached a saddle where we could look into the volcano.

They said they were done. They couldn’t go any further. So after chatting with them at the saddle, I worked my way another 45 minutes up the rim of the volcano to a cross at the peak.

I did it. I had to fight every urge to give up and get to the top.

The way down was amazing. You could basically run down in the sand. To put it into perspective. It took me 14 hours to get from my tent to the top. It took me just under 3 hours to get from the summit back to my tent.

Needless to say, I was exhausted. I climbed into my tent feeling haggard but accomplished. The sun was setting. I crammed food into my face and passed out. I woke with the sun at about 7am and started on the 8 hour trek back to the small town I left behind two days earlier.

I had almost no water and the sun was beginning to beat me down already. After about 6 hours I felt like I wasn’t going to make it. As luck would have it a farm presented itself to me.

I knocked on the door and an old lady welcomed me in. I think she could tell I was in an unhealthy state because she gave me water and beer immediately I chugged it down. She gave me fresh olives and I ate them quickly. Definitely the best olives of my life.

With my poor Spanish I was able to find out that they had lived on this farm their whole lives and that the food and water I ate was from Arequipa. They called me a gringo and laugh at how horrible I looked and how I was “loco” for climbing “solo.”

I tried to pay these poor farmers for their services, but they would not accept. It was a very humbling experience and the last hour and a half hike back to the plaza where I started my hike was filled with contemplation.

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